This sweeping historical tragedy about two children separated from their parents and sold into slavery continued a run of late masterpieces from Kenji Mizoguchi. Riding a crest of international recognition for Japanese cinema, initiated by Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), Mizoguchi’s late period of creativity for the Daiei studio interspersed modern-day dramas with several widely acclaimed period dramas (jidai-geki).
Sansho Dayu is set in Japan’s distant past and is the heartbreaking story of a brother and sister, the children of a noble governor, who are kidnapped and sold as slaves to the cruel bailiff Sansho (Eitaro Shindo). Years pass, and the divided mother and children grow desperate, then resigned.
Mizoguchi relays this tragedy – based on a novel by Ogai Mori with its basis in myth – with classical force. Filming in his signature long, flowing takes, the director builds inexorably to an emotionally devastatingly climax.
“I vote in awe of one of the greatest filmmakers our world has known. Blending the exquisite precision of his indigenous culture with a universal Weltanschauung, this is one of Mizoguchi’s masterpieces; poetry and melancholy are one with him. The viewer who is not deeply moved by the final scene, the rigorous outcome of the preceding political and personal events, has a heart of stone.” Eithne O’Neill
“The most beautiful and devastating of all Mizoguchi’s films.” Steven Shaviro